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Mike Sutton
Mike Sutton
Dr Mike Sutton is the author of 'Nullius in Verba: Darwin's greatest secret'.
 

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April Fools Day: Etymological Origins

Apr. 1, 2015 4:52 pm
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April Fools Day

There are many competing explanations for the cultural origins of April fools day.

Wikipedia has it that: "In 1508, French poet Eloy d'Amerval referred to a poisson d’avril (April fool, literally "April fish"), a possible reference to the holiday.[9] In 1539, Flemish poet Eduard de Dene wrote of a nobleman who sent his servants on foolish errands on 1 April.[7] In 1686, John Aubrey referred to the holiday as "Fooles holy day", the first British reference.[7] On 1 April 1698, several people were tricked into going to theTower of London to "see the Lions washed".[7]"

Today, April 1st 2015, no joke, honestly, with the ID research method, I found what appears to be the first English use of the term "April fools":

image

Public Domain

April Fools: Etymological Origin 1678

"April fools - People sent on idle errands."

Source: Ray, J. (1678) A Collection of English Proverbs. W, Morden, Cambridge University.

John.Ray, (1628-1705) a famous early naturalists, was a Fellow of the Royal Society. From his work, including a book on birds and another on poisons he appears to have been something of a polymath who wrote a lot of books on languages and etymology, The famous Ray Society is named after him. More details here.

What is historically interesting here is that, prior to my unique discovery of Ray's English definition, the Flemish understanding 167 years earlier is one of fools errands.

NOTE: The OED gets back further to 1829 on "Aprill fools"

The April Fools Month Hypothesis

In 1678, in England, it meant people being sent, as a joke, on a fools errand. And 20 years later the same meaning applied in London. I wonder if, historically, the shenanigans were carried on for the whole month of April? After all, only the month and no day is mentioned. If so, perhaps the lengthy entertainment period served some long forgotten social and economic purpose?

Perhaps we should re-name April 1st "Fools Errand Day"?

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Nullius in Verba

To find out how to find early uses of terms, phrases and words with the remarkable ID method - see the first three totally free chapters of Nullius in Verba

 
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